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Trial Practice: The Hallway Settlement

Tonight's post about a very peculiar aspect of Trial Practice was written by our Savannah divorce attorney, David Purvis.

The case has been dragging on for months. The other side refuses to budge. You refuse to budge. You're right, they're wrong. According to them, they're right, you're wrong. The battle lines are set, the line has been drawn, you just need to know what day and time to show up to fight.

Months drag on. Your attorney promises you that they're doing everything they can to get a court date from your judge. " This judge has the worst docket." "This judge never hears domestic cases." "Will you budge some more? No? Ok. I'll see if the other side has decided to yield any more." "Bad news, they're not." "They did what with that account? That's not right, I'll try again and see if we can get the Judge to hear it soon."

This goes on for several more months. Then, finally, after a year of purgatory, after a year of limbo, a little card arrives in your attorney's mailbox from the court. A court date! For your case! Finally, some justice.

Your court date is today. You didn't sleep last night. You meet your attorney at the courthouse. He's soaked in sweat having lugged 3 boxes of stuff into the courthouse. The other attorney looks about as haggard. The stench of nerves and anxiety lingers in the air. As you're talking to your lawyer, the other attorney walks up and asks him to go down the hall to talk.

Back and forth you go with your attorney, with the other side. We've already done this at mediation. Everyone steps into the courtroom and asks the Judge for some more time. You sit there nervously as the Judge scowls at you. Or at least it feels like it's at you. Maybe it's at the other side. It's hard to tell from that far away. But he certainly doesn't seem happy. "Negotiations are underway, Judge." "We might be able to work this out in the hallway, Judge." More hallway negotiations.

You're now not sure if the Judge is going to buy what you're arguing. You're now not sure if you even remember why you drew that line in the sand. You're pretty sure you don't want that guy who just scowled at you touching your 401k. Eventually you give on Issue A. Your ex gives in on Issue B. The other issues start getting hashed out. One by one, compromises are struck. The attorneys stroll back into the courtroom. "Judge, we've got it settled, we just need to put it on the record."

This actually happens pretty regularly. It is a regular part of trial practice. It's often not until the litigants see the judge (or jury) that they really realize that judgment day has come, that a decision is about to be made that will likely have a tremendous impact on their daily lives for years to come. And all of a sudden, those desires to "Screw it, just let the judge decide" are gone. This your life, dammit! And you start striking compromises with your ex. Suddenly your case is resolved and you had some say in it. In fact, you kept some stranger(s) from deciding it for you, though it took their presence to find your better angels. Or your ex to find theirs. Or both.

Now, if we could have only gotten that court date months ago...

David Purvis

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